Sharp Decline in U.S. CEO Confidence in the Economy in Q4 – but CEOs Report Strong Hiring for 2019

Vistage CEO Confidence Index reverses all gains recorded since the 2016 Presidential Election

SAN DIEGO–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Economic confidence among CEOs continues to plunge, according to the Q4 2018 Vistage CEO Confidence Index, dropping to 95.4, down 7.6 points from 103.0 in the 3rd quarter and last year’s 15-year peak of 110.3. This quarter’s index reverses all gains recorded since the 2016 Presidential election and underscores CEOs’ increasing pessimism over the future of the national economy—with only 14 percent of CEOs anticipating improvement for the year ahead.

“The steep dive in confidence is due to a number of reasons including rising interest rates, higher inflation, tariffs, a newly divided Congress, and the general global slowdown,” said Dr. Richard Curtin, director of research at the University of Michigan, who analyzed the data. “Future monetary and fiscal policies are making subsequent declines more likely than a quick snapback in optimism.”

Overall, the data suggest that economic uncertainty has begun to negatively affect firms. Yet, most companies are reluctant to slow the pace of hiring. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) plan to expand their workforce in the next year, and of those almost half (46 percent) plan to hire new workers in the first two quarters of 2019.

Firms still hold expansive hiring plans because of recent difficulties in filling open positions, said Joe Galvin, Vistage’s chief research officer. “While the number of CEOs who plan to increase their total workforce is down from the 15-year peak of 75 percent set in the prior quarter, it remains higher than any other survey since mid-2003. We have consistently heard from CEOs that finding talent with the right skills to fill open positions is increasingly difficult.”

Survey highlights include:

Economic Confidence
Only 44 percent of all CEOs felt conditions in the overall economy had recently improved, a significant decline from last quarter’s 64 percent and 66 percent in Q4 2017.

Just 14 percent of CEOs anticipate improvement, down from 25 percent last quarter and 45 percent a year ago.

A pessimistic outlook for the economy was reported by 33 percent of CEOs, which is the highest level since the start of the Great Recession.

Revenue and Investment Spending
The proportion of firms who expect gains in revenues fell to its lowest level in two years, however gains were still expected by a remarkable seven-in-ten firms. The slide during the past year has been large, dropping 13 points from the peak of 83 percent.

Increased spending on fixed investments fell to 43 percent, down from 50 percent last quarter. However, few firms are planning cutbacks—just eight percent.

Hiring and Profit Outlook
54 percent of all firms anticipate they will increase the prices of the products or services they sold, a major factor as to why profits haven’t suffered more in the face of declining revenues.

65 percent of all firms still plan to increase their workforce.

Read the full results and download the infographic to learn more.

About the Vistage CEO Confidence Index
The Vistage CEO Confidence Index, established in 2003, is a quarterly survey of small and midsize business CEOs, presidents, and business owners about the U.S. economy. The Q4 2018 Vistage CEO Confidence Index includes responses from 1,257 U.S. CEOs, surveyed between December 3 and December 10, 2018. Since its establishment in 2003, the Index has proven to be a reliable indicator for changes in GDP and employment, two to three quarters hence.

About Vistage Worldwide, Inc.
Vistage is the world’s largest CEO coaching and peer advisory organization for small and midsize businesses. For more than 60 years, we’ve been helping CEOs, business owners and key executives solve their greatest challenges through confidential peer groups and one-to-one executive coaching sessions. Today, more than 27,000 members in 26 countries rely on Vistage to help make better decisions for their companies, families and communities. The results prove it: Vistage CEO members grew their annual revenue on average by 4.6% in 2020, while nonmembers with comparable small and midsize businesses saw revenue decrease by 4.7%, according to a study of Dun & Bradstreet data. Learn more at vistage.com.

Media Contact
Katie McWeeney
| Vistage
858.523.6875 | katie.mcweeney@vistage.com